Is there a chess system where you can make players of differing skill levels compete against each other with an equal chance to win without using different chess variations?

This system should give good players and bad players a level playing field where both of them can win.



The way I've done this in the past is to play a series of games with clocks starting with 10 minutes each on the clocks and then the rule for subsequent games that the winner of the previous game gets one minute less and the loser one minute more. This quickly stabilizes at a level where both players have good chances of winning.

  • 11
    @Drako after 10 games each will win 50% of the games. – DonQuiKong Nov 22 '18 at 14:45
  • 26
    @Drako: This is a question about the ordinary world, not programming or pure mathematics; “players of unknown skill” can reasonably be understood as assuming that the players at least know the rules and aren’t newborn babies. – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Nov 22 '18 at 14:55
  • 11
    Yeah, if the stronger player is much stronger then no time imbalance will do the trick. They'll just devise a strategy for every possible move while the opponent is thinking about it. – leftaroundabout Nov 22 '18 at 17:00
  • 6
    @leftaroundabout Yep. You can think on your opponent's time and it's sufficient to devise a counter for just a few of the likely best moves. Any other move will be sufficiently sub-par that a quick response will still let the stronger player win. – David Schwartz Nov 22 '18 at 21:55
  • 13
    @Drako The GM vs Baby will equalize at 50% too. Eventually, GM gets 0 time and instantly loses. Next game, in his one minute, he crushes his opponent (probably by time unless they accidentally knock a piece on the board into a legal move.) – corsiKa Nov 22 '18 at 22:32

A common way to have a large number of weak players have a chance at beating a single strong player is simultaneous chess: simultaneous chess

image taken from http://www.chesshistory.com/winter/winter89.html

The strong player plays multiple simultaneous chess games against each of the weak players, walking from board to board. That means the attention and time of the strong player is divided among all the games while the weak players can focus their full concentrate on just their own game.

The handicap of the strong player can be adjusted by adding or removing opponents.

  • 10
    The player giving the simultaneous display usually scores over 90%. Against very weak players a GM would score 100% or very close regardless of the number of players. So, this does not answer the question. – Brian Towers Nov 23 '18 at 10:56
  • 1
    @BrianTowers, I think this answer is totally valid. There is only so much you can do, the difference between a GM and a weak player is so vast. Take your answer for example, I am confident that a GM can beat a weak player with 1 min vs 19 min odds. Carlsen vs Bill Gates game: youtube.com/watch?v=84NwnSltHFo, it took Carlsen 10 seconds to checkmate him. – Akavall Nov 24 '18 at 7:24

...players of unknown skill can have an equal chance of winning...

This sounds like you want to take the player's skill out of the game which goes against the spirit and rules of chess, I would say. You could introduce elements that equalize skill differences but you may end up with a completely different kind of game, which you wanted to avoid.

For example you could introduce some kind of handicap or bonus (less time for the higher skilled, less chess pieces to begin with for the higher skilled, more chess pieces for the lower skilled (analogously to Go), other side tasks for the higher skilled) but that would require that you know the skill differences in advance or detect them while playing.

Please note, that winning chess for a lower skilled player because the higher skilled opponent had some kind of handicap is not the same as winning under otherwise equal conditions. In chess as most people play it, the definition of winning (in a statistical sense) means that you are higher skilled. Your definition of winning seems to be different (independent of skill). It would be a different kind of winning.

Indeed one could switch sides at random times as RemcoGerlich pointed out, and it would formally solve your problem, but in that case winning would be very much meaningless.

That's why I conclude that no, there is no such way. Either the stronger skilled players will win more often in chess, or the definition of winning becomes meaningless and some other kind of metric depends on the skill (like the handicap) or it's not standard chess any more.

  • 3
    You are discussing why you think the question is bad not answering it. This belongs in a comment not an answer. – Brian Towers Nov 23 '18 at 18:33
  • 1
    In a handicap system, the goal of a player is not simply to win individual games against particular opponents, but to achieve the lowest handicap. Individual wins and losses are only relevant insofar as they affect the handicap. – supercat Nov 23 '18 at 20:37
  • 2
    @BrianTowers I answer the question "Is there" with "there isn't". I think this is an answer. – Trilarion Nov 23 '18 at 21:22
  • @supercat "... the goal of a player is not simply to win individual games against particular opponents, but to achieve the lowest handicap. ..." This is true. The one with the lowest handicap at the end can feel himself/herself as the true winner, but that person will also be the most skilled player on average. – Trilarion Nov 23 '18 at 21:27
  • @Trilarion: The person who is most skilled should fairly consistently finish the night with the lowest handicap, but the the numerical values of handicaps offer more quantitative measure of skill than their mere rankings would indicate. – supercat Nov 24 '18 at 0:43

The ultimate handicap is teaching.

Typically we assume that the person with the winning position on the board is a winner, and the person with the losing position on the board is the loser. But this does not always have to be true. The more advanced player can always choose a different win condition. Why not? It's only a game. If the more advanced player chooses a win condition that isn't in direct opposition to the less advanced player winning, then you can actually reach a win-win situation.

You might be able to develop a clever handicap system where players have to "play their best" to beat the opponent with a specified handicap. Go actually has this, though one quickly progresses to the point where a 2 stone handicap is too much. If you do this, you quickly create a game of "you vs. nature" The game becomes a zero-sum game and it really changes how it feels.

However, if your goal is to create situations to help teach the newer player, it doesn't matter how skilled you are. You are no longer playing on the board. You are playing in the mind. And, honestly, we can all use a little practice in our quest to become a grandmaster at that.

  • 1
    What "different win condition" could that be? Can you provide an example which would not be "a different chess variation"? – Philipp Nov 24 '18 at 9:43
  • @Philipp Different win condition: less skilled player gets better at Chess, thanks to your efforts to teach them. Maybe they even get good enough to challenge you, and you learn to become better at Chess. – Cort Ammon Nov 24 '18 at 15:42
  • So you mean if the stronger player realized that she is winning, she switches from opponent to mentor and advises the weaker player why she is winning and what the weaker player could do about it? – Philipp Nov 24 '18 at 15:47
  • @Philipp That's one way yes. Another approach I have used is to put myself in positions that are very difficult for me to puzzle through but are more clear from the other side of the board. It's not as formal as some mathematical handicap, nor is it as simple as simply giving them a piece advantage, but it leads to a game that tests both skill as I continuously adapt the game to the players. – Cort Ammon Nov 24 '18 at 15:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.